Women in Wine

Women in Wine | Kristin Belair | Honig Winery

Honig winery winemaker

Kristin Belair, winemaker

Every once in a while you come across a couple that are the perfect match. They seem ideally suited for each other, the whole greater than the sum of their parts. As Jerry McGuire would say, they “complete” one another. Female winemaker Kristin Belair and Honig Winery have one of those special symbiotic relationships.

Honig Winery traces its history back to 1964 when Louis Honig bought a 68 acre ranch in Napa Valley, planting it with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  In its early days, Honig focused only on selling grapes to nearby wineries but had dreams of retiring and making his own wine. He sadly passed away before his dream could ever be realized, however his family would ultimately go on to start making wines; a sort of tribute to his legacy.
bottleIn 1981 the family produced a few hundred cases of Honig Sauvignon Blanc which they entered in the annual Orange County Fair wine contest. To everyone’s amazement, they took home the gold medal and later that same year, Honig’s future winemaker, Kristin Belair, graduated from U.C. Davis. She began her career at another Napa Valley staple, Trefethen Vineyards.
Belair, like most young winemakers, would start working from the ground up. Below ground, in fact… working in the cellar, as what’s commonly known as a “cellar rat”. In her understated humorous way she explains that during this internship she perfected forklift driving and cleaning tanks. Not exactly the most romantic ideal that winemaking has come to be known for.
In 1985, Belair moved over to Turnbull to begin an “official” winemaking position, producing both Chardonnay and Bordeaux-styled reds.
Finally, in 1998 Belair landed at Honig, starting what remains today a deep connection between winemaker and winery.  Kristin Belair’s healthy sense of humor and easy going attitude fits right in with the folks at Honig.  Take for example their tradition of yearly themed Christmas cards, which have included “Rock stars”, “Charlies Angels” and “Mermaids by the pool” themes. Belair not only cooperates, but loves the custom.
But don’t let their penchant for humor fool you, these wines are serious.
The 2007 Honig Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which I was fortunate enough to enjoy at a recent female-focused winemaker dinner, is a complex and elegant wine. It features rich black fruit, a hint of sage and creamy vanilla. It’s still young but has silky tannins with a nice, long finish, and can be enjoyed now with a little decanting.  The blend of 95% Cabernet, 4.5% Cabernet Franc and .5% Petit Verdot, aged for 18 months in one-third new French Oak.  I asked Belair about the reasoning behind adding a miniscule .5% Petit Verdot, to which she explained that yields were extraordinarily low from their vineyard that year. In addition, the flavor profile was such that such a small amount had a greater than expected impact. With about 15,000 cases made, consumers will readily be able to find this wine.
In a word, this wine is “complete”.
Edited by Jon Troutman

Women in Wine | Janet Myers | Franciscan Magnificat

wine label

Franciscan Magnificat 2005

The phenomenon of women in wine is not as recent as you might think, nor is it limited to a few famous wine makers such as Heidi Barrett.  While most casual wine drinkers might not have heard of Janet Myers, they most surely will be familiar with Napa Valley producer Franciscan Estates.  Franciscan Estates started back in 1972 but now boasts 240 acres under vine in the prime Oakville District of Napa Valley. Franciscan Estates began its rise to prominence in the mid ’70’s by making wine in small lots and then blending them together to get the desired result.  Franciscan adopted the Bordeaux style of wine making 1985 with the launch of its flagship wine, Magnifcat..   Magnificat is a rich powerful full bodied wine using the traditional Bordeaux varieties of grape. Janet Myer’s joined the team at Franciscan in 2003 but her first job was working harvest at Robert Mondavi when she was still a student at UC Davis.  Is it just me or am I seeing a lot of great wine makers coming out of UC Davis?   Janet has travelled to Italy and Australia to work with leading vinters to improve her skills and  has been director of wine at Franciscan since 2005, the same vintage that I tasted recently at a Women & Wine dinner.
The 2005 Magnificat is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.  I put my nose deep in the glass and took a big “sniffy sniff” and was met with the quintessential Napa nose; Cassis, Vanilla and cedary oak.  The palate was plummy with black cherry and Anise and was a superb match for the New York strip steak grilled medium rare. The alcohol is 14.5% which may be a little higher than the wines of Bordeaux, but I did not find the wine to be overly alcoholic or hot. Production was a little over 24,000 cases so consumer’s shouldn’t have any trouble finding this vintage or more recent vintages. At $50 a bottle this wine is more than I would spend on a daily drinker, but quite reasonable as a monthly treat.